What do you do when it feels like there are no new stories to tell?
You tweak something familiar to make it feel new again.
Thus, we have the new Netflix movie Tramps, which takes the now-familiar Before Sunrise set-up of two people forging an intense emotional bond over a short, contained period of time and adds a dose of criminal intrigue. The two soon-to-be-something-close-to-lovers are Danny (Callum Turner) and Ellie (Grace Van Patten), the former a sweet-natured cook with heretofore thwarted ambitions and the latter a hardened waitress longing to escape a bad situation. When his brother ends up in prison, Danny is pressed into action as the bagman for a vaguely defined criminal exchange, and Ellie is the getaway driver. However, when Danny exchanges the wrong bag the two have to spend the next 24 hours correcting his mistake or else Danny’s brother will be hurt and Ellie will miss out on the payday she needed for her ticket out of town. Of course, in translation this means a lot of them talking and getting to know each other while somewhat aimlessly wandering through different corners of New York City.
It’s the second film from director Adam Leon, whose 2013 feature Gimme the Loot won the Grand Jury Prize at South By Southwest. Gimme grossed a meager $104,000; Netflix paid $2 million to pick up Tramps at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The stunning turn in fortune moved Leon to tears, leading him to tell The New York Times, “I did not want Tramps to be subject to a ‘Let’s put it in a random theater for a week to placate the filmmaker’ approach. I want Netflix to do what Netflix does, which is to put a film out there in a way that will help you find its audience.”
However, in truth I only know about Tramps because of David Ehrlich’s recent IndieWire piece lamenting how Netflix’s film festival buying spree has led to a steady stream of new titles being unceremoniously dumped into an ever-growing library, sandwiched between Adam Sandler movies and Iron Fist. Ehrlich described Tramps as being “delightful to the core, diverting by design but told with the confidence of someone who can endow even the lightest fare with a real sense of weight.”
That “weight” might depend on how much you’re willing to put into Tramps, particularly as early scenes feel naturalistic to a fault, as in you can see the actors improvising instead of actually existing as their characters. Yet there’s also an ingratiating “we had no money, but we got together to tell a story” quality to it, particularly during walk-and-talk sequences in the city where Leon’s non-intrusive camera placement feels like they simply didn’t have the permits to be filming there.
The “let’s put on a show” quality only goes so far. Like Before Sunrise before it, Tramps rests entirely on the chemistry of its two leads. Luckily, Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten prove to be remarkably charismatic. You’ll enjoy being in their company, particularly once their initial hostility gives way to an easygoing rapport and flirtation.
However, Leon isn’t privileged enough to simply replicate the naive romanticism of Before Sunrise. The film is called Tramps for a reason. These are two people hit hard by financial uncertainty, trapped in the bottom rung of the economic ladder by familial obligations and unhealthy relationships. He’s not crazy about his current living condition; she describes herself as recently unemployed. This job was never supposed to bring them together. He even invokes Clerks while explaining how he wasn’t even supposed to be there. They are merely drawn together by circumstance, but these two tramps manage to find a way forward in life and it’s lovely to behold.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Tramps is Before Sunrise for the post-Great Recession era.
THUMBS UP OR THUMBS DOWN?